RIF’s Favorite Reads of November 2017

Helping you sort out the best from the rest published this month.

Faves of November 2017

Dearest reader-friends: we hope you’re well-braced for the holiday season. It’s not an easy one, and literature and books are playing a more important role than ever before—or at least, that’s how it feels right now. Whether you read for the escapism, the knowledge, or the empathic learning of what it feels like to be someone else (or the million other reasons there are to read), we hope you enjoy our selection of monthly favorites. Picking these books sometimes feels like playing favorites with all the cute cousins that come to Thanksgiving with their new teeth coming in, and other times it’s like throwing shade when your bigot brother-in-law inexplicably brings a handsaw to the table. Either way, we’re just thankful to have such a big, generous family of books to choose from, and we’re grateful to be able to share them with you.


Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Faves of November 2017

Cedar’s world—which is ours, but two months in the future—is falling apart. Newborn babies appear to be an earlier form of humans on the evolutionary scale. The government is either breaking down or tightening its grip on the citizens, or both—rumors are rampant and information isn’t clear. Amidst all this, Cedar has gone to find her birth mother, an Ojibwe woman. The reason behind her sudden interest in the woman who birthed her rather than the well-meaning white liberals who adopted her is that Cedar is pregnant—and her baby might be one of the rare “normal” babies that the government wants to protect in order to prevent further erosion of humanity (or so they say). But as society begins to become ever more dangerous, Cedar must protect herself and her unborn child. A dystopian yet all-too-possible future awaits in the pages of the legendary Erdrich. (Harper)

Spineless: The Science of the Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone by Juli Berwald

Faves of November 2017

Juli Berwald was once an ocean scientist until she fell in love and decided to raise her family in a landlocked state. Having returned to the ocean to figure out why jellyfish have recently been clogging power plants and destroying fisheries, Berwald rediscovered her love for the ocean and her concerns for its various ecosystems. In doing so, she also discovered the incredible mystery of the jellyfish, a poorly understood but ancient creature that has survived on our planet through millennia. With their incredibly deadly venom, their faster-than-gravity spear-like defense mechanism, and their glowing beauty, species of jellyfish continue to surprise and astonish scientist and laypeople alike, and Berwald explores the species’ secrets while simultaneously plumbing the depths of her own life in this part-memoir, part-travelogue. (Riverhead)

Artemis by Andy Weir

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Faves of November 2017

From the author who brought us The Martian comes a new, rollicking book of escapism, and just enough science to keep the nerds among us feeling like we’re learning something. Jasmine Bashara, the character at the center of the novel, refuses to be its hero—instead, she’ll be its successful criminal mastermind, though until recently she was just into side-jobs of smuggling. Having grown up in Artemis, humanity’s first-ever lunar colony and vacation spot, she’s all too eager to accept a high-paying job that will help her out of debt. What’s a little sabotage among friends, after all? But the job goes terribly wrong, and she’s thrust into a Dan Brown-level conspiracy, which only her smarts, her talent, and a well-trained cast of characters will help her get out of. (Crown)

Wonder Valley by Ivy Pochoda

Faves of November 2017

Los Angeles is weird, but it’s still rather strange to see a jogger running through a traffic jam butt-naked. The image, which captures the news, also affects an unlikely band of characters whose stories intertwine over the years preceding the jogger’s appearance. From a desert commune where the two grown sons of its hippie leader decide to rebel, to the criminals on the run who end up at the commune to find healing both spiritual and physical, these characters have a wide-ranging set of needs. There’s also the boy who’s just gotten out of juvie and is searching for his mother on the streets of LA, and the college tennis player Britt who’s running away from a mistake and stumbles into the commune. With a flair for social criticism that doesn’t take readers out of the fantastic narrative, Pochoda’s new book is one to tear through. (Ecco)

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

Faves of November 2017

Abby Williams survived her small town, which was both stifling and full of the tormenting teenage girls who make up the worst high school cliques. But Abby is all grown up now, and that Indiana town is long behind her. Except that she’s also an environmental lawyer in Chicago, and she’s assigned to a case involving the plastics plant that was the economic center of her childhood town. Years after she left for good, she must go back and reintegrate herself into the town in order to learn what the plastics plant is actually up to. Not much has changed, but the girls who made her life hell are all grown up too, and it’s through them that she begins to remember things from her last year in the town—including the disturbing symptoms of environmental poisoning that seemed to afflict her then-greatest nemesis. Abby isn’t sure about anything anymore, and she must relive her past in order to figure out the future. (Crown Archetype)

Mean by Myriam Gurba

Faves of November 2017

Sophia Castro Torres was raped and beaten to death on a baseball diamond in Myriam Gurba’s hometown, and Gurba is haunted by the act of violence. She’s angered at how the media dubbed the Chicana migrant worker Torres as “a transient.” Gurba is no stranger to the complexities and impact of language, being a mixed-raced Chicana herself, and as she looks at the intricacies of identity, she also unfolds a story of tragedy: one in which she is left to live and bear witness to those who died before her. A complex nonfiction novel, Mean uses experimental form and spare prose to create a deeply impactful book that will make you shake your head, suck your teeth, and think long and hard about the ways we move through a world where rape culture is the status quo. (Coffee House Press)

Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance by Bill McKibben

Faves of November 2017

A modern fable that includes Subarus, Asperger’s syndrome, and Coors Light, Bill McKibben’s newest book is a fictional response to the problematic administration and resulting resistance. He imagines a time in which Vermont—independent for some 14 years before it joined the United States—would seriously consider seceding from the rest of the country. Vern Barclay, a radical radio host broadcasting from a super-secret location, along with a merry band of fellow hippies, starry-eyed millennials, and plain old resistance activists, attempt to make just such a situation come to pass. Sure, Vern might also be a fugitive from the law, but he’s also a true patriot—of Vermont, at least. In seizing a truck-full of commercial, mass-produced beer, the secessionists commence their criminal activities, and McKibben takes readers along for the ride. (Blue Rider Press)

The Mother of Black Hollywood by Jenifer Lewis

Faves of November 2017

You might know Jenifer Lewis from her latest series, black-ish, or from one of the over 300 (yes, you read that correctly) other roles she’s played in film and television. Dubbed “the mother of Black Hollywood,” Lewis’ memoir is as astonishing, evocative, and impressive as her acting. From the amazing story of how she landed her first role just 11 days after graduating from college (probably the shortest rags-to-riches story imaginable), to the harrowing fight with mental illness that led to her diagnosis of bipolar disorder and sex addiction, Lewis shares some of her most personal moments with readers. Whether you’re a longtime fan or just want to read about a woman who possesses startling strength and resilience, this is a fantastic book to add to your holiday wishlist. (Amistad)

Someone You Love Is Gone by Gurjinder Basran

Faves of November 2017

This is the multigenerational saga you’ll want to keep close on long winter nights. In three interweaving narratives, we get to know Simran and her family. In “Before,” we learn about her mother’s life and marriage in India before moving to Canada. In “Then,” we learn about the reasons Simran’s brother has been lost to her family for a long time. In “Now,” we follow Simran’s life in Canada with the family she seems to be losing one piece at a time, adding to the long-ago grief of her brother’s estrangement. Simran’s marriage is taking a nosedive; her daughter and sister are getting further away; and to add to it all, her beloved mother has died but remains to haunt Simran through her memories. A riveting tale of a family and the women at its center, you’ll want to re-read this as soon as you finish it. (Harper Perennial)

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

Faves of November 2017

If you’re at all a fan of the movie Up or the beautiful work of Fredrik Backman (A Man Called Ove), you must pick up Elizabeth Berg’s latest. Arthur is an 85-year-old man who visits the cemetery every day to have lunch with his dead wife. Maddy is a senior in high school whose mother has died, and whose father hasn’t dealt with that death very well. She goes to the cemetery because it’s a quiet place where other high schoolers don’t hang out. She nicknames Arthur “Truluv” (true love) because of his undying devotion to the dead. Lucille is Arthur’s next-door neighbor, also in her ’80s, and attempting to embark on a new adventure with a long-lost love. These three characters come together as they each attempt to start anew. (Random House)

Wild Embers by Nikita Gill

Faves of November 2017

This new book of poems by Nikita Gill is full of the same voice and vivid work that made her famous on Tumblr and Instagram. Riffing on women who live in stories familiar to many of us—from Greek mythology to Disney movies and beyond—Gill gives voice, backbone, and valor to these women while carrying through a strong thread of love in its various forms. I saw a blogger call this book a staple of self-care, and I have to agree. With an interest in self-love and self-acceptance, the women in these pages save themselves, investing readers with the courage to do so as well. (Hachette Books)

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State by Nadia Murad

Faves of November 2017

Nadia Murad was born into the Yazidi community in northern Iraq where she lived a relatively peaceful life until she was 21. That year, a group of men belonging to the Islamic State—more commonly known in the U.S. as ISIS—came to her village and butchered most of the inhabitants. Young women like Nadia were taken to be traded as sex slaves among the legions of the Islamic State. Nadia survived unspeakable cruelties and managed to escape, relying on the kindness and shelter of strangers. Here, she writes about her experiences, shedding light on the organization of ISIS and bringing attention to the violence sweeping through Iraq at the hands of ISIS fighters. (Tim Duggan Books)

The Un-Discovered Islands: An Archipelago of Myths and Mysteries, Phantoms and Fakes by Malachy Tallack, illustrated by Katie Scott

Faves of November 2017

Since time immemorial, people have invented places. After all, we’ve been telling stories for a long time, and before the world was easily chartable by satellite, ship, and plane, people told stories about what existed beyond the land they knew. In this gorgeously illustrated book, Malachy Tallack introduces readers to islands that have never existed other than in people’s imaginations and tall tales. From the familiar Atlantis to more obscure inventions, Tallack tracks down the origins of these stories and explains the ways in which some of the myths remained constant while others faded into obscurity. (Picador)

L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home by David Lebovitz

Faves of November 2017

Renowned chef David Lebovitz had been renting a place in his favorite city, Paris, for a while, but when it was time for him to buy, he chose an apartment that ended up being more than he bargained for. Not only was it difficult to find, but there was a vast array of paperwork to complete once the place was finally his, and—as one might expect—a whole lot of renovation to be done on the kitchen. It wouldn’t be a chef’s memoir without the addition of the beautiful recipes scattered throughout this book, as well as the photographs that make these glossy pages a beauty. For those of us in need of delicious escapism, this is a great choice for the holidays. (Crown)

The Whispering Room by Dean Koontz

Faves of November 2017

Jane Hawk is the FBI agent Koontz introduced earlier this year in The Silent Corner. Here, we pick up with Hawk as she moves through the world trying to keep a low profile; after all, she’s no longer FBI but a fugitive from the law. The highest agencies in the land are now infiltrated by the very criminals she’s chasing, and she can’t trust anyone, except a cop in the Mississippi town that’s just been subjected to a bizarre crime: a mass murder and suicide by car-bomb carried out by a sweet schoolteacher whose journal—the cops say—make her seem unhinged. But Hawk and the cop know there’s something more sinister at work, and Hawk doesn’t care how high the conspiracy goes; she’s going to get the dangerous mind-control nanobots out of people’s bloodstreams. After all, her own husband was a victim. (Bantam)

The Senator’s Children by Nicholas Montemarano

Faves of November 2017

In a novel that reads like a distillation of the American Dream’s falsehoods, a senator’s life rockets to political stardom and is ruined just as quickly. In the 1980s, David Christie’s political life begins in earnest when he runs for a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania. Later on, as he’s vying for the Democratic candidacy for president with the likes of Bill Clinton, Christie’s former mistakes are revealed in the form of an estranged daughter. Avery has never met her father and lives in the shadow of the media scandal that shoved her into the spotlight, while her sister, Betsy, has to contend with a newly broken family. Christie’s political career is ruined, but he’s still a father. When he becomes ill years later, his two daughters find they both need to interact with a man whose mistakes made their lives hell. (Tin House Books)

Mrs. Osmond by John Banville

Faves of November 2017

For lovers of Henry James’ novels, Mrs. Osmond continues the story of Isabel Archer, who stars in The Portrait of a Lady. The James novel ends with Isabel returning to her emotionally abusive husband, but in Banville’s version, she takes a detour around the continent first. Characters like Henrietta Stackpole—who you might remember from the classic—reappear, and Isabel’s recently inherited fortune isn’t neglected in the narrative. Sparkling with the gorgeously simple language and deep observations of human nature that make James such a beloved writer—while also adding in Banville’s own sensibilities—the novel is likely to stir those of us who wished a better life for our beloved Isabel. (Knopf)

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

Faves of November 2017

Debut author S. A. Chakraborty calls her work “historical fan fiction,” and readers of historical fiction and fan fiction alike will get a kick out of this gorgeous new novel. Nahri is a scrappy young woman who plies her trade on the streets of Cairo—that is, she pretends to possess magical powers that allow her to read palms and heal people. When she accidentally summons a very real djinn warrior by the name of Dara, she learns that whether or not she believes in it, magic exists. Dara spirits her away to the legendary city of Daevabad, where Nahri learns she is the descendent of a powerful family. The ruling monarchy of Daevabad welcome her, despite having ousted her ancestors. As she tries to navigate the thorny politics of her new home, she must contend with those who want to influence her, gain power through her, or ultimately cause her harm. (Harper Voyager)

Featured images: Sergio Speroni

About Ilana Masad

Ilana Masad

ILANA MASAD is an Israeli-American writer living in New York. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Printer’s Row, The Toast, The Butter, The Rumpus, Hypertext Magazine, and more. She is the founder of TheOtherStories.org, a podcast for new, emerging, and struggling writers. She is (way too) active on Twitter @ilanaslightly.

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